In a reflection on her visit to Vermejo Park Ranch, Katie Arnold outlined the differences between being an elk and a bison parent. Both animals displayed different styles of parenting, and Arnold was able to link their behaviour with her own responses to parenting situations. The comparisons give some good insights on how a parent’s actions affect the development of the child, but it’s also important to note that not every situation is black or white.
During her travels to New Mexico, Arnold and her family came across a newborn elk calf and its mother on the road. When they both spotted the visitors, they perceived a threat, but only the mother was able to run away because the calf was still not able to properly use its legs well. Usually, she will return to her child once the danger has passed, if the calf is still alive. Arnold’s guide explained that bison mothers are the exact opposite: they’ll stand their ground and display aggression to protect their child from the threat.
An elk parent is one who takes a more hands-off approach when it comes to parenting. This laissez-faire style allows kids to make their own decisions and deal with the consequences of their actions. In turn, they learn how to assess risk, mitigate the damage, and learn the importance of hard work. It’s the idea that without feeling how it’s like to get burnt, the kids won’t truly know why to stay away from the fire, even if their parents continuously describe the heat.
A bison parent can be likened to helicopter parents. Hyper-vigilant of all the dangers and obstacles around their children, these parents attempt to eliminate all obstacles and difficulties in the way. It follows the notion that parents only want what’s best of their children, so their decisions are probably the best option available. Just like how a bison would never let her calf face danger alone, this parenting style is based on the idea of protection.
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While both tropes exist, we shouldn’t hastily generalize parenting styles to these characterizations. Depending on the situation, one may need to be an elk or a bison; sometimes kids need a little bit of freedom, and other times it’s probably best they don’t decide on their own. No matter which parenting style you associate with the most, it may be important to know how to switch animal personas when needed.